Will Carver- Nothing Important Happened Today #BlogTour

Nine people arrive one night on Chelsea Bridge. They’ve never met. But at the same time, they run, and leap to their deaths. Each of them received a letter in the post that morning, a pre-written suicide note, and a page containing only four words: Nothing important happened today. That is how they knew they had been chosen to become a part of the People Of Choice: A mysterious suicide cult whose members have no knowledge of one another. Thirty-two people on that train witness the event. Two of them will be next. By the morning, People Of Choice are appearing around the globe; it becomes a movement. A social media page that has lain dormant for four years suddenly has thousands of followers. The police are under pressure to find a link between the cult members, to locate a leader that does not seem to exist.
How do you stop a cult when nobody knows they are a member?

Another day, another challenge, and another book that will prove exceedingly hard to review, being quite unlike anything else I have read this year. Here goes…

This is a beautifully structured book, moving the reader effortlessly between multiple characters and viewpoints drawing us deeper and deeper into the disturbing world of recruitment into cult, and the destructive consequences that arise. A multitude of victims pass through our consciousness as the book progresses from sharply contrasting walks of life, and as Carver interrogates the minutiae of each of these lives, it brings the reader to a heightened understanding of how a conceivably better exit plan is within their grasp. The book is tinged with a sadness and sense of hopelessness for many of the characters, but equally with some who ironically seem enlivened by the prospect of being involved in something they deem powerful and important, ending their lives on their own terms with seemingly little coercion. Carver cleverly conceals the source of this rapidly spreading cult, providing a knotty mystery for his readers as to how this small seed of destruction gathers such a momentum so quickly and so widely, and just what is the real motivation of its founder or founders? I loved the way that Carver focusses on a series of ordinary lives that will resonate with many readers, and the individual stories of dissatisfaction, underachievement, frustration, debt or emotional barrenness that overtakes their will to live with such devastating consequences.

Fuelled by Carver’s own authorial intervention on the disconnectedness of life in the modern age, dependent on the virtual world  of clicks and likes as our one-to-one human interaction is slowly being chipped away at, and the appeal of being part of something like a cult to renew the feeling of connectivity, the book provides a scathing indictment of the world we live in. Carver pummels our consciousness with his observations on life, poverty, cults, social media, even serial killers’ body counts (and how some of them got it so, so, wrong in their preferred killing methods!) the book progresses with a rhythm and cadence incredibly similar in feel to parts of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, with it’s equally dispiriting observations on life and conformity. We all recognise the dark nature of humanity, the undermining of human connection by a world we inhabit through screens, the division and inequality of society which undoes those less able to cope with its challenges, but is the lure of the cult really the best way to overcome these challenges? Yes, this book takes the reader to some very dark places, but as Carver underscores the book with his usual dark, mordant wit this makes the book an overall less gloomy affair than this review has probably led you to believe. An intelligent, morally questioning and challenging read, that raises issues of certainty and doubt in equal measure, and is all very scarily plausible indeed…

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

Missed a blog tour post? Catch up here:

G. D. Abson- Black Wolf

A young woman is found dead on the outskirts of St Petersburg on a freezing January morning. There are no signs of injury, and heavy snowfall has buried all trace of an attacker. Captain Natalya Ivanova’s investigation quickly links the victim to the Decembrists, an anti-Putin dissident group whose acts of civil disobedience have caught the eye of the authorities. And Natalya soon realises she is not the only one interested in the case, as government security services wade in and shut down her investigation almost before it has begun. Before long, state media are spreading smear stories about the dead woman, and Natalya suspects the authorities have something to hide. When a second rebel activist goes missing, she is forced to go undercover to expose the truth. But the stakes are higher than ever before. Not only could her pursuit of the murderer destroy her career, but her family ties to one of the victims threaten to tear her personal life apart…

Closing my review for the first book in the series, Motherland with my enjoyment of discovering what could potentially be a great series with a credible female protagonist, I did have a heightened sense of anticipation for Black Wolf, and sure enough I was not to be disappointed…

What I have particularly enjoyed about this series so far is the real sense of how little Russia has moved forward in terms of the overarching eye of the state on the lives of its inhabitants, and the steely grasp of power encapsulated by seemingly untouchable Putin. As the story focusses on a group of anti-government activists (christened The Decembrists based on the anarchist art collective Voina) and the upcoming elections, there is plenty of room for Abson to develop the theme of societal and political control of the few over the lives of the many. Equally, this theme of control and surveillance dogs our intrepid investigator, Natalya Ivanova throughout, exerting its pressure on both her personal and professional life. The book also puts into sharp focus the financial dirty dealings of those in power, revealing a deep-seated melee of corruption and greed in the upper tiers of society. Little wonder that this investigation is to prove extremely troublesome from start to finish…

I really like the character of Ivanova who is a completely ‘everywoman’ kind of character, with the contrasting dilemmas of her personal life and home and navigating the patriarchal strictures of her work. At times she seems scatty and disorganised, but with a steel fist in a silk glove, she consistently proves her doggedness and determination to flout the rules of her expected professional behaviour, which aids the relatives of the victims, but puts her under the microscope of her superior, and the allied security services who seek to undermine her. There is still a whiff of corruption hanging over her partner Misha and this is what they seek to expose, putting Ivanova in a very fragile position indeed. As she delves deeper in the activities of anti-government group, this puts her into increasing danger, but her empathy and seeking of justice for both victims and their loved ones has a nobility and sympathy that only strengthens our general respect for her. She puts me very much in mind of the crusading female detective protagonists so prevalent in Scandinavian crime fiction, and I love the conflicting loyalties, but also the ardent sense of justice that Abson imbues her character with.

Quite simply, if Abson continues this series with this depth of characterisation, sense of time and place, and such a pace and energy to his plot development and narrative, I for one will be exceedingly happy. It has been very pleasurable to discover a female protagonist in a very male dominated sub genre of crime with Russia as a backdrop, and producing such a vivid and incisive exploration of life within this society.  I will await the next book with an increasing sense of impatience… Recommended.

(With thanks to Mirror Books for the ARC)

A frankly disappointing October round up…

I’m not going to dwell too long on this (there’s nothing worse than a moany blogger) but think I am probably not alone in the blogging community in hitting a bit of a dry spell in my reading. This pretty much sums up October for me, which proved to be an increasingly frustrating month, where I just struggled to settle on a book. So my DNF rate this month was into double figures, which was rubbish, and also read an additional four books that I really didn’t like. At all.

Poop.

However, in much better news I have cut a bit of a swathe through my Petrona Scandinavian Crime Fiction Award reading list so will be posting some reviews of these over the coming weeks, and just to give you a heads up that Abir Mukherjee’s new book Death In The East is pretty damn good- will post a review on publication date in November. Obviously I thoroughly enjoyed A. D. Flint’s Brazillian set thriller, The Burning Hill which I did post a review for this month, and have also belatedly started reading Vaseem Khan’s excellent Inspector Chopra series- am thoroughly enjoying the first one. Have also been introduced to a new author Rod Humphris’ Simon Ellice series courtesy of Rat’s Tales independent publishers, and am halfway through the trilogy so will review all 3 books together. There’s been a healthy amount/ never too much book buying of late, so think there should be some goodies there, and hopefully I may be a bit more of an actual blogger this month.

Huzzah!

Here’s to November and some proper good reading. Have a good month everyone!

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C. M. Ewan- A Window Breaks- Extract

Today marks the publication of A Window Breaks by bestselling crime author Chris Ewan ( Safe House, Dark Tides, The Good Thief’s Guide To…) with a new nom de plume. Following the growing trend for British and Irish authors to diversify into tense Hollywood style action thrillers, Ewan has produced a genuinely nerve shredding tale full of breathless action that romps along at a fast clip like an increasingly violent adult version of Home Alone. You’ll be on the edge of your seat. Guaranteed. 

You are asleep. A noise wakes you.
You stir, unsure why, and turn to your wife.
Then you hear it.
Glass. Crunching underfoot.
Your worst fears are about to be realized.
Someone is inside your home.
Your choices are limited.
You can run. Or stay and fight.
What would you do?

Extract

CHAPTER 12

‘Tom?’

Rachel shook my shoulder.

‘Tom, wake up.’ She  whispered, close to my  ear: ‘I think I heard something.’

I groaned and mashed my face into my pillow.

‘Tom, it sounded like a window breaking. I think there’s someone downstairs.’

I groaned some more. Rachel is a light sleeper. She hears bumps in the night. And I’m the one she’s turned to – again and again – to get out of bed and creep downstairs to investigate.

‘Tom?’

It was warm and fuggy under the covers – my legs were tangled in Rachel’s legs – and I could so easily drift off again. I could hear the hitch of fear in  Rachel’s voice but it wasn’t quite enough to tug me back to full consciousness.

Then a vague distant noise made me stir. It could have been the sound of glass crunching underfoot.

My heart clenched as Rachel yanked on my upper arm. ‘Tom? Wake up. Please.’

Eyes open, listening hard.

The room was black. The only light was the faint glow of my wristwatch. It was just after 2 a.m.

Another slight crunching sound.

Oh God.

I blinked and stared into the pulsing darkness as a great sucking fear invaded my  chest. In my mind I was watching a kind of home movie rendered in fuzzy greyscale. I was picturing a long, uninterrupted tracking shot – the visual equivalent of the auditory hunt I was carrying out with my ears. The camera in my mind’s eye went snuffling across the carpet and out of the bedroom door. It sped low along the unlit hallway, sweeping left and right in small, tight arcs, like a bloodhound following a scent. When the camera reached the mezzanine it pitched up and then down over the polished steel banister rail overlooking the vaulted space below. It dropped on a wire, spinning and sweeping, sniffing out the source of the gritty crunching I had heard.

‘I’m scared, Tom.’ ‘Shh.’

Was that the whisper of the sliding glass door on to the deck being pulled back? And now the dull thud of the door hitting the rubber buffer?

Rachel clutched my arm again. I didn’t have any clothes on under the covers. And all right, it shouldn’t have been a big deal right then, but it’s amazing how being naked can make you feel more vulnerable.

Silence. I waited.

My heart jackhammered in my chest, pushing me up off the mattress. Rachel’s fingers dug into my flesh.

The silence persisted, but this was no natural hush. It felt loaded. Felt forced. Like somebody was holding their breath downstairs.

I was listening so intensely it was as if I could hear the throbbing of the very air itself – the sound of millions of tiny molecules rubbing and vibrating against one another.   It was a sound like no other. The sound of pure fear in the middle of the night.

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A. D. Flint- The Burning Hill

On the run from unjust court-martial back home, a young British soldier gets robbed and shot on Copacabana Beach. The bullet in Jake’s head should have been fatal, but miraculously, it saves him from a previously undetected condition that soon would have killed him. Jake doesn’t believe in fate, nor does he feel he owes anything to anybody, but he does hate injustice. Vilson, the teenage favela kid who fired the bullet, is a victim of injustice, in a corner with a corrupt cop and a sadistic drug-lord after his blood. With a turf war erupting in Vilson’s favela, fear stalks every narrow alleyway, and anyone dragged up to the notorious Burning Hill had better hope they’re dead before they get there. But it’s not just fear that shapes life in the favela, belief is also powerful, able to both save and destroy…

I seem to have acquired quite a taste for Brazilian set fiction of late, so The Burning Hill looked to be a bit of a tempter from the outset. With a screwed up central protagonist, razor sharp observations of life among the dispossessed, and positively throbbing with the rhythm and atmosphere of Rio de Janeiro, what more could you ask for?

Based on the author’s experience of living in Brazil. I think it’s fair to say that this location has obviously made a real impact, in terms of what has been observed and remembered from their time there. The book oozes authenticity from its opening pages depicting the woeful living conditions and threats from authority endured by the street kids, going on to the shockingly misjudged attempted robbery of a western tourist by two young boys from the favela. Flint clearly demarcates the problems experienced by the kids in their dealings with the less than moral representatives of law enforcement, and the dangerous forces at work within the favela itself at the hands of unscrupulous gang members. Little wonder that these kids dream of a better life, far away from a life of destitution, thievery and violence.

Throughout the book Flint uses the character of Vilson, a young boy abandoned by his mother, and having recently lost his brother, to represent life on the margins of society, and this works incredibly well as we bear witness to his anger, frustration and his futile attempts to overcome the feeling of abandonment. Through his turbulent interactions with Jake (the aforementioned tourist) and a female lawyer Eliane, the layers of Vilson’s character are exposed in dramatically different ways, revealing a tough street kid persona underpinned by all the vulnerability that his life experience has caused. Equally, by aligning his character with that of Jake, a disillusioned British ex-soldier with more than enough demons of his own, these two characters are a real tour de force and drive the narrative throughout. As much as Vilson and Jake are united by incurring the wrath of an utterly corrupt police officer, their relationship is defined by suspicion and misguided communication, where even the grandest of gestures inevitably go wrong, but even still serves to make their relationship compelling. This is the real hook of the book, as you become more and more inveigled in their trials and tribulations.

Flint is an incredibly visual writer, be it his depiction of the slums, the noise and hudy gurdy of vibrant Rio, the rural outreaches of the farming community, a truly terrifying rodeo or a visceral and tense boxing match. His pace of writing and attention to detail exerts a steely grip on the reader, and you genuinely find your reading speed increasing in the interludes of pure tension and dramatic action. Most importantly though he manages to keep the reader on the backfoot all the time, as the story took several unexpected and violent turns along the way, ramping up the tension and putting his central characters under extreme pressure, and by extension the reader too, which is all to the good. I enjoyed this book immensely with its multi-faceted characters both the good guys and the bad guys, and those that veer perilously between the two. Flint unerringly gets right beneath the skin of his characters. The book has a nervous energy, that increases the sense of danger and threat throughout, and with the vibrant and intuitive depiction of life in this most colourful of cities, that at its heart has a huge and unbridgeable chasm between the haves and have-nots, there is a real raw feeling of truth about the book too. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Unbound for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

A Reading Round Up- Clare Carson- The Canary Keeper/ Rob Hart- The Warehouse/ Laura Sims- Looker/ Neil Broadfoot- No Man’s Land/ Becky Chambers- To Be Taught, If Fortunate

Time for another quick round up as the ‘I’ve read these’ mountain continues to grow, but time for reviewing decreases for a little while. Although not going the whole hog with a reviewing spreadsheet, (the pinnacle of blogging time management), plans are afoot for some better time organisation, so hopefully will be up to full speed soon as I’ve read a host of excellent books of late. Anyway, let’s get to it and hope you enjoy this eclectic mix of recent reads…

Clare Carson- The Canary Keeper: London, 1855. In the grey mist of the early morning a body is dumped on the shore of the Thames by a boatman in a metal canoe. The city is soon alive with talk of the foreign killer and his striking accomplice: a young woman dressed in widow’s weeds. Branna ‘Birdie’ Quinn’s sleeplessness led her to the river that morning, but was it only thoughts of her drowned husband that kept her awake? She has always been wilful, haughty, different… but is she a murderess? To clear her name, Birdie must retrace the dead man’s footsteps to Orkney and the far north. A dangerous journey for a woman alone, but one she must make in order to save her neck from the hangman’s noose…

A definite change of direction and style from one of my favourite authors, and despite not being a massive reader of historical crime fiction, I enjoyed this book very much indeed. The story traverses between 19th century London and Orkney, and opening with the discovery of a dead man on the fetid shore of the River Thames, Carson immediately places us firmly in the feel and atmosphere of this burgeoning city.

As with her previous series, Carson once again demonstrates her intuitive and precise approach to scene setting, and as we journey with Birdie to the remote reaches of Scotland, as she flees a trumped up murder charge, Carson cleverly draws comparisons between the claustrophobic intensity of le in a teeming city, and that of a small coastal community. Carson also expands the story significantly to draw on the story of the ill-fated journey of William Franklin to Canada and beyond, and having recently read Michael Palin’s book Erebus, about Franklin and his exploration, it was really satisfying to have an overlap in the realms of fiction and fact, demonstrating again Carson’s attention to detail and her skilful interweaving of the plain facts into incredibly readable fiction.  Aside from the historical accuracy and sense of time and place, Carson creates in Birdie a truly empathetic and brave protagonist. From the familiar surroundings of her life in London, this determined and feisty girl embarks on a journey of discovery, not only to a completely alien community, but on her own mission to unmask a murderer and clear her name. Again, Carson adroitly mixes a commentary on the patriarchal nature of the time and how women’s lives are defined and shaped by their correlation to such an ardently male society, but cleverly pushes a subtext of how women can escape from, or manipulate this overarching definition of 19th century society. Indeed, the female characters within the book all demonstrate this inner will to defy and challenge the patriarchal norm, and exhibit a strength of character that is to be admired, despite the perilous situation that Birdie amongst others find themselves in.

There is always a slight flicker of tension, but also anticipation when an author you admire decides to travel a different path with their writing. However, my fears were quickly assuaged and Carson has only succeeded further in endearing myself to her writing, her superlative plotting, characterisation, and her innate ability to thoroughly immerse her reader in the world she presents. Highly recommended.

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Rob Hart- The Warehouse: Amidst the wreckage of America, Cloud reigns supreme. Cloud brands itself not just as an online storefront, but as a global saviour. Yet, beneath the sunny exterior, lurks something far more sinister. Paxton never thought he’d be working Security for the company that ruined his life, much less that he’d be moving into one of their sprawling live-work facilities. But compared to what’s left outside, perhaps Cloud isn’t so bad. Better still, through his work he meets Zinnia, who fills him with hope for their shared future. Except that Zinnia is not what she seems. And Paxton, with his all-access security credentials, might just be her meal ticket. As Paxton and Zinnia’s agendas place them on a collision course, they’re about to learn just how far the Cloud will go to make the world a better place. To beat the system, you have to be inside it…

As a person employed in the increasingly fragile bricks and mortar bookselling trade, I have my own axe to grind about the almost world domination of a certain online retailer. Consequently, I felt honour bound to read this fictional critique of the world of globally powerful organisations that control, monitor and manipulate our shopping habits. I absolutely loved this clever and inventive thriller set in the world of Cloud, that bears more than a passing resemblance to the all powerful corporations currently strangling free enterprise, and consumer choice across the globe. Within the Cloud all workers are monitored, corralled and totally controlled, so although they have the dubious honour of a job where millions don’t, Hart constructs an interesting analysis of this grand manipulation of the workforce, and how easily these people can find their services dispensed with. Indeed, this world that Hart has constructed is scary in the extreme, as elements of it already exist in certain workplaces, and to be honest some of the other indignities that the workers suffer are all too easy to imagine coming to pass as the years progress. As each layer of scurrilous corporate behaviour is revealed, Hart has produced not only a tense, nerve shredding thriller, but a damning indictment on the world of big business, that will strike a chord with most people I’m sure who care about the evils of certain areas of global capitalism.

However, before you begin to think that this is all a bit preachy and big business bad, free enterprise good, Hart has actually produced a damn fine, unsettling and nerve shredding thriller, that will appeal to most readers of dystopian fiction. This is Nineteen Eighty-Four for contemporary times, whilst not losing the thrust of the thriller form, with action, suspense and pace beautifully controlled throughout. Both Paxton and Zinnia are compelling characters, and I really liked the way that Hart builds their relationship and depicts their sharply contrasting experience of life within the Cloud. Zinnia’s militancy is superb from the get go and she is a total firebrand, set against Paxton’s slowly growing awareness of the suppression of the corporation, and the ethical dilemmas he proceeds to do battle with.  This is certainly one of the most tightly plotted and clever dystopian thrillers that I have read for some time, and a grim reflection on the all too recognisable power of the virtual retailing world. Highly recommended.

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Laura Sims- Looker: The Professor lives in Brooklyn; her partner Nathan left her when she couldn’t have a baby. All she has now is her dead-end teaching job, her ramshackle apartment, and Nathan’s old moggy, Cat. Who she doesn’t even like. The Actress lives a few doors down. She’s famous and beautiful, with auburn hair, perfect skin, a lovely smile. She’s got children – a baby, even. And a husband who seems to adore her. She leaves her windows open, even at night. There’s no harm, the Professor thinks, in looking in through the illuminated glass at that shiny, happy family, fantasizing about them, drawing ever closer to the actress herself. Or is there?

A slim but ultimately satisfying read, very much in the territory of Notes On A Scandal, but with a nod to the familiar creeping unease of writer like Patricia Highsmith. This is  an intense and claustrophobic read, depicting the maelstrom of envy and covetousness that one woman exhibits, as she studies the seeming perfect life and family of ‘The Actress’ who lives in her street. As the intensity of her scrutiny and jealousy increases, Sims ramps up the transition of  The Professor from her initially emotionally wounded and depressed state into something increasingly akin to a Hitchcock thriller, as she slowly makes inroads into ingratiating herself into The Actress’ life. I read this pretty much in one sitting, and would suggest that this is the perfect way to approach this book to really get the full experience of the increasingly creed unsettling tale that Sims unfolds. Although I found the ending a little disconcerting, for the most part I enjoyed the book, and how Sims carefully manipulates our empathy and relationship with this woman on her descent to irrational behaviour, and how emotional trauma can take an individual on a strange and troubling path in their lives. Recommended.

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Neil Broadfoot- No Man’s Land: War is coming to No-Man’s Land, and Connor Fraser will be ready. A mutilated body is found dumped at Cowane’s Hospital in the heart of historic Stirling. For DCI Malcolm Ford it’s like nothing he’s every seen before, the savagery of the crime making him want to catch the murderer before he strikes again. For reporter Donna Blake it’s a shot at the big time, a chance to get her career back on track and prove all the doubters wrong. But for close protection specialist Connor Fraser it’s merely a grisly distraction from the day job. But then a bloodied and broken corpse is found, this time in the shadow of the Wallace Monument – and with it, a message. One Connor has received before, during his time as a police officer in Belfast. With Ford facing mounting political and public pressure to make an arrest and quell fears the murders are somehow connected to heightened post-Brexit tensions, Connor is drawn into a race against time to stop another murder. But to do so, he must question old loyalties, confront his past and unravel a mystery that some would sacrifice anything – and anyone – to protect.

Neil Broadfoot is a consistently excellent crime writer and I have read many of his books, so all the signs were there that this would be a cracking good read- and so it proved to be. What I like about Broadfoot’s books is the less linear and more complex plotting that he employs, tackling big themes but never losing sight of the fact that his characters caught up in these webs of deceit need to be credible. In Connor Fraser, ex police officer and now security specialist, Broadfoot has has come up trumps, marrying the image of the tough guy with a more cerebral edge, similar to genre stalwart Jack Reacher. Fraser is a character that will appeal equally to men and women, and supported by another great character in the shape of female journalist Donna Blake, who proves an excellent foil for him but also being a likeable and determined protagonist in her own right. Broadfoot slowly fleshes out both his principal characters, putting them through the wringer, but not afraid to balance their more dangerous experiences with some good character analysis, particularly Blake balancing her compulsion for career advancement with the attendant difficulties of being a single mother. As the story segues between Fraser’s former experiences in Northern Ireland, and a series of pretty visceral and inventive murder around Stirling, Scotland. Broadfoot keeps the action flowing, as a dark conspiracy comes to light, affording Broadfoot the opportunity to put a more socio- political slant on the main plot, which resonates with the troubled times we currently find ourselves in. Very pleased to report that the first of this new series augurs well for further books, and there will be much to enjoy from Broadfoot in the future. Highly recommended for thriller lovers everywhere- it’s a damn good twisty one…

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81KAJMvXg5L__AC_UY218_ML3_Becky Chambers- To Be Taught, If Fortunate: At the turn of the twenty-second century, scientists make a breakthrough in human spaceflight. Through a revolutionary method known as somaforming, astronauts can survive in hostile environments off Earth using synthetic biological supplementations. They can produce antifreeze in sub-zero temperatures, absorb radiation and convert it for food, and conveniently adjust to the pull of different gravitational forces. With the fragility of the body no longer a limiting factor, human beings are at last able to explore neighbouring exoplanets long suspected to harbour life. Ariadne is one such explorer. On a mission to ecologically survey four habitable worlds fifteen light-years from Earth, she and her fellow crewmates sleep while in transit,  and wake each time with different features. But as they shift through both form and time, life back on Earth has also changed. Faced with the possibility of returning to a planet that has forgotten those who have left, Ariadne begins to chronicle the wonders and dangers of her journey, in the hope that someone back home might still be listening.

Well, here is a major revelation for everyone, but I have hardly ever read science fiction, and over the years I cannot recall ever finishing a book that I have idly picked up in this genre. I’ve always found this strange as I do have an abiding fascination with space and enjoy movies in this genre. Finding myself, book-less one lunchtime at work and drawn by the cover, I picked up a proof of this one. Between lunchtime and finishing the commute home, I had fair whipped through it, and was really pleasantly surprised to find that I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray back into this genre for some time. I obviously didn’t know a huge amount about Chambers started but was delighted to find out that her writing is informed by her own family’s involvement in the world of space, giving a glorious reality to the experiences of Chambers’ characters, and although speculative, sowing the seeds of possibility for generations to come. I loved this microcosm of humanity, with just four principal characters, and how they co-exist in such a compressed space, millions of miles and years away from home, and how we are given such an insight into their relationship with each other. I also liked the passion that each character exhibits for their own particular specialism be it geology or meteorology for example, and went into complete geek mode for the more intricate science that Chambers balances with her examination of these peoples’ lives, hopes, fears and thirst for discovery. Needless to say, I shall be seeking out other books by this author, and would like to extend a personal thank you for awakening a new interest in me for this genre- fortunately, I have been taught… Highly recommended.

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(Thanks to Head of Zeus for a copy of Clare Carson- The Canary Keeper, Bantam Press for  Rob Hart-The Warehouse, and Hodder for Becky Chambers- To Be Taught, If Fortunate. I bought Laura Sims- Looker and Neil Broadfoot- No Man’s Land)

 

 

 

August Round-Up- A Raven’s Dozen…

I don’t know if it’s been noticed but I have had nearly a month pretty much away from the blog and social media, as I was feeling a little crime fiction’d out and just wanted to spend some time reconnecting with some of the other genres I enjoy reading. Obviously, I couldn’t let myself be totally crime fiction free so there will be some of my normal longwinded reviews appearing again soon, but for the most part I disengaged from crime and had a lovely time traversing the fictional globe. Having confidently stated which of the books of summer I would read for CATHY746Books  annual summer reading fun, I very soon went off-piste, and have just been picking up a completely random selection of books, along with some of my stated choices. I will return to my original choices in the fullness of time- promise! So let us begin…

Meet Keiko. Keiko is 36 years old. She’s never had a boyfriend, and she’s been working in the same supermarket for eighteen years. Keiko’s family wishes she’d get a proper job. Her friends wonder why she won’t get married. But Keiko knows what makes her happy, and she’s not going to let anyone come between her and her convenience store…

Read this on the recommendation of a couple of work colleagues who have positively raved about this. It contains all the elements of quirky Japanese fiction that I adore with its slightly off-kilter central character, Keiko, and her unique perception of life around her. As much as I hate to use the word ‘charming’ it is totally charming as we observe her small microcosm of life within the store, and how the equilibrium of this is disturbed by a potential romantic entanglement. I can’t say that I altogether enjoyed the slightly deflating ending of the book,  but if the opportunity arises to read this slender novella it’s well worth an hour or so of your time.

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Dawn, mist clearing over rice fields, a burning Vietnamese village, and a young photographer takes the shot that might make his career. The image, of a staring soldier in the midst of mayhem, will become one of the great photographs of the war. But what Jonathan has seen in that village is more than he can bear. He flees to Japan, to lose himself in the vastness of Tokyo, and to take different kinds of pictures: of streets and crowds and cherry blossom – and of a girl with whom he is no longer lost. Yet even here his history will catch up with him: that photograph and his responsibility in taking it; his responsibility as a witness to war, and to other events buried deep in his past.

I absolutely adored this book for so many reasons, and it will definitely be a book I shall re-read in years to come. Opening in the killing fields of Vietnam where a photographer takes the defining war photograph of his career, but suffers a classic case of PTSD in its aftermath. Moving between Vietnam, Japan. and Jonathan’s former life back home in rural England, Harding depicts all three locations in panoramic detail, capturing the essence of nature and setting against these beautiful backdrops the futility and destruction of war, turbulent relationships, and exploring notions of home. The language just flows through the reader, the descriptions present themselves as technicolour photographs, and the exploration of Johnathon’s life and emotions is poignant and resonates with emotion. Quite simply a beautiful book.

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Kim Jiyoung is a girl born to a mother whose in-laws wanted a boy. Kim Jiyoung is a sister made to share a room while her brother gets one of his own. Kim Jiyoung is a female preyed upon by male teachers at school. Kim Jiyoung is a daughter whose father blames her when she is harassed late at night.   Kim Jiyoung is a good student who doesn’t get put forward for internships. Kim Jiyoung is a model employee but gets overlooked for promotion. Kim Jiyoung is a wife who gives up her career and independence for a life of domesticity. Kim Jiyoung has started acting strangely. Kim Jiyoung is depressed. Kim Jiyoung is mad. Kim Jiyoung is her own woman. Kim Jiyoung is every woman.

I read this book with an increasing sense of disbelief and anger, as Nam-Joo charts the life and experiences of Kim Yijoung, an ordinary woman of South Korea, struggling to exist in a hugely paternalistic and belittling society. Little wonder that this book has been such a touchstone in South Korea for women since its publication in 2016. Working as a mirror to society, the ordinariness of Kim’s existence from childhood to womanhood is delineated by the instances of sexism, chauvinism and subjugation that women endure in a society so completely controlled and dominated by the actions and needs of men, and the way that these needs, and their perceived ‘superiority’ are so routinely put before those of women. As a single Western woman with all the freedoms that this affords me, I felt myself growing increasingly enraged and frustrated by the denial of freedom and visibility of Kim herself. The writing is clipped and sharp where small explosions occur within the sedate pace of the book overall, and made all the more powerful for it. An eye-opening and necessary read.

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When Cy Bellman, American settler and widowed father of Bess, reads in the newspaper that huge ancient bones have been discovered in a Kentucky swamp, he leaves his small Pennsylvania farm and young daughter to find out if the rumours are true: that the giant monsters are still alive, and roam the uncharted wilderness beyond the Mississippi River…

What can I say? 149 pages of sublime, intuitive, lively, and descriptive writing that encapsulates some big, powerful themes of destiny, family, and loyalty. With the cadence of some of the best American western writers, Davies has delivered a book that beautifully blends together history and pure storytelling so resonant of the western tradition. Punctuated by violence, and the strength of family bonds against the lure of discovery and exploration, this is all in all a perfect little package.

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If only time allowed, I would attempt to read the entire Booker longlist as a few of my bookselling colleagues do, so instead a cherry pick a few, and then endeavour to read the shortlist in its entirety. To be honest Kevin Barry could pretty much write anything and I would lap it up, so of course Night Boat To Tangier is marvellous/wonderful/ exceptional in every way! In this Beckett-esque tale of two ageing gangsters, Barry offers a darkly witty, and sharply observed novel on the moral wasteland that defines the lives of these two career criminals. The Lost Children Archive is just so apt as a novel of our present time, as one New York family embark on a road trip to Mexico, and a stream of children and young adults travel from Central America to Mexico in a perilous mission to reach America. Contrasting the easy affluence of the American family with the worn down lives of those in search of a better life, this book is deeply moving and beautifully articulated, so this along with Kevin Barry should be shortlisted! I struggled with Lanny (unlike the world and his wife) finding it a wee bit mawkish and slightly pretentious, and am just halfway through Girl, Woman, Other which is hitting the bookish sweet spot so far, with its realistic characterisation and Evaristo’s trademark smooth prose, and biting observations.

So, it would seem that I couldn’t leave the dark and fascinating world of crime to one side completely, and have slightly binged on a selection of true crime accounts. I would wholly recommend all four of these whether you be interested in the forensic investigation of crime, or with The Five a whole new exploration of an iconic crime case with a sharp focus on the victims of this most notorious of killers, and bringing their lives to the fore, attempting to dispel many inaccurate perceptions of these women before their reduction to ‘victim’ and salacious Victorian tabloid fodder. Traces, When The Dogs Don’t Bark and Unnatural Causes all cast a light on the procedures of, and the scientific breakthroughs in, the forensic investigation of crime, and all traverse a myriad of crimes, some familiar, some not, in an incredibly readable and endlessly engaging style. All three draw the reader in the emotional lives of these incredibly dedicated individuals, and for those stout of heart and strong of stomach, the information they reveal along the way is absolutely fascinating…

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(I borrowed a copy of Convenience Store Woman from the library. I received an ARC of Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 from Scribner UK. I bought The Gun Room, West, Lost Children Archive, Night Boat To Tangier and Lanny. I received an ARC of Girl, Woman, Other from Hamish Hamilton, The Five from Doubleday and Traces from Blink Publishing. I bought When Dogs Don’t Bark and Unnatural Causes)